US Open: Big American Surge In The Big Apple

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Bill Simons

New York

A SIMPLE TENNIS TRUTH: These days you can’t go through a Carlos Alcaraz match without seeing a jaw-dropping, absolutely mind-boggling winner from the Spaniard.

BIG SURGE IN THE BIG APPLE: There’s a long way to go in this tennis tournament, but American men’s tennis is rocking it. In the press room, the debate is who in the long run is going to emerge as the best. Our top-ranked player, Taylor Fritz, has put on a demolition derby here. He’s disciplined, experienced, mentally tough and has big weapons. The No. 9 player, who reached the 2022 Wimbledon quarters, is itching to win a major. 

With his big smile and big forehand, No. 10 Frances Tiafoe wants to improve on his run last year to the semis. Tommy Paul, who downed Carlos Alcaraz in Toronto, has had the best summer of any American man. 

And then there’s Big Ben. Some say that with his youth, power, athleticism, smarts and tennis lineage, Ben Shelton has the biggest upside of any American. Earlier this year the University of Florida product reached the Aussie Open quarters. The other day he blasted a 147 mph serve. Paul and Shelton face each other in the fourth round, so America is assured of a men’s quarterfinalist.

Plus, there will be an American woman in the quarters, since Jessica Pegula and Madison Keys will face off in the fourth round. Pegula won their only previous match. 

COCO, JESSICA, PEYTON AND MADISON TO FOURTH ROUND: Coco Gauff is a big star who’s just 19. But Pam Shriver commented, “It seems like she’s been around forever.” She’s a sublime athlete, who has a great emergence story (she beat Venus Williams at Wimbledon when she was just 15). She reached the French final and is No. 6, plus she prevailed at Washington DC and Cincy  this summer. Here in New York she’s already has had two great comeback wins. She’s the hottest star in the WTA. Sizzle is her friend. But just imagine how her celebrity would soar into the Serena Williams-like stratosphere if she won in New York.

While Gauff is young and charismatic, her doubles partner, Jessica Pegula is a no-fuss veteran who stays in her lane. She’s never gotten beyond the quarters of a Slam, but she’s more consistent than a complaining mother-in-law. 

In four of her last seven Slams, she’s reached the quarterfinals and she only lost two matches during the hardcourt swing. Today she downed Elina Svitolina in three sets.

Another veteran, Madison Keys, came from a set down to win her 100th Slam match as she beat the powerful Russian, Liudmila Samsonova. Plus, to the delight of her fans in her native Cincinnati, Peyton Stearns downed the rising Brit Katie Boulter. The 21-year old Peyton, an appealing University of Texas product who like Ben Shelton won the NCAA title, is through to the fourth round. BTW: Cincinnati is also the home of two-time US Open women’s doubles finalist Caty McNally and world No. 45 J.J. Wolf. 

YOU KNOW YOU’RE IN NEW YORK: After a relatively brief day about writing this and that about tennis, you take the clunky media bus back into Manhattan and are mindlessly walking up Madison Avenue, talking on the phone with your wife, when you spot an excited cluster of pedestrians and you see a hunky boy in a jean jacket who’s fending off the gleeful “oohs and ahhs” of an adoring cluster of folks. Then you look up and realize, OMG, it’s the No. 1 player in the world – Carlos Alcaraz. 

And you can’t resist. So you smile, knowing he’ll recognize you from countless press conferences. And you say “Hola!” He then offers back the most celebrated grin in the ATP and you smile back and advise, “Keep on smiling, Carlos.” He replies, “Will do!” 

WASTING AWAY IN MARGARITAVILLE: It seems that during every US Open, a prominent cultural figure passes on. It began when Princess Diana died during the 1997 US Open. Today, we learned that Jimmy Buffett, 76, passed on. The beloved singer described himself by saying, “I was really just a simple Catholic altar boy who wanted to play bass in a band to meet chicks.” 

When it came to sports, Jimmy was known more for his love of the Miami Heat and the New Orleans Saints, which is funny because his Parrot Heads are hardly saintly. As for tennis, the WTA can boast Margarita Betova, and the Internet shows us a mysterious, brief video entitled, “I was Jimmy Buffett’s tennis coach.” 

HEADLINES:

OH, WOZ A NIGHT!

DJOKOVIC VS. ALCARAZ GETS CLOSER EVERY DAY

ATHLETES ARE AMERICA’S ROCKSTARS

INSIDE THE MOST THANKLESS JOB OF THE US OPEN: THE PRACTICE COURT SCHEDULER

THE DUKE OF TWIRL: Tommy Paul repeatedly twirls his racket between points. But to him, it’s no big deal. He explains, “It’s basically a big fidget spinner. It’s for no purpose at all. It’s a thing I can’t get rid of.”

HIGH CULTURE TENNIS TAKES A DIP: High culture has a way of dipping in and out of tennis. Pablo Casals gave Don Budge a private concert in his apartment after he won the 1938 French Open. Novak Djokovic was raised on classical music and Pushkin poetry. Tennis players from Jeff Borowiak to Jenson Brooksby have played Mozart, and collecting art is a serious pastime for John McEnroe, Milos Raonic and many others. 

Literary types know that Andrea Petkovic reads assorted deep-think books in many different languages. Iga Swiatek revealed that she liked to go off to the New York Botanical Garden for a solitary read. Her press conference book reviews of everything from “The Great Gatsby” to “Moby Dick” draw interest. 

But recently disaster has struck tennis nerds. Switaek, the WTA’s princess of high culture, says she’s now spending her time binge-watching TV shows. 

DREAMIN’ OF THE DREAM TEAM: Later this fall at the Davis Cup, will Carlos Alcaraz and his fellow Spaniard Rafa Nadal team up on heck of a dream team? 

NOVAK SENDS A MESSAGE – AGAIN: Friday night Novak Djokovic was down two sets to his fellow Serb Laslo Djere. Clearly he was on the brink of yet another dismal New York misadventure. Maybe that’s odd to say about an icon who’s won here many times. But “only” 3 of his 23 majors came here, and his bio is filled with big Big Apple shortfalls and black eyes. 

Fans have booed him mercilessly. He was  kicked out of the Open when he hit a ball person and, most recently, he was banned. Still, he’s the steeliest of tennis players – you never want to count him out. 

So, as if on cue, he turned his third-round match around and, shortly after 1:30 AM, won 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3.

He said, “I think the message is sent to the rest of the field that I’m still able to play five sets deep at night, and coming from two sets down always sends a strong message.”

MOST INSIGHTFUL SELF-DIAGNOSIS: The other day the struggling Daniil Medvedev called a trainer after losing a set. He asked the Russian what was wrong. Daniil replied, “I lost the third set.”

NEW YAWK FANS: During the curiously named fan week, a mean-spirited fan yelled at the well-respected former player and coach Viktor Troicki, “This is New York, not f–king Serbia.”

Then the other day, deep into her match, Jelena Ostapenka got a fan kicked out of her court. Similarly, the often volatile Daniil Medvedev confronted a beer-toting female fan who blew him a kiss. In contrast, Tommy Paul has been pumped up by a fiercely loyal 14-year-old boy who doesn’t hesitate to give him plenty of mid-match advice. “He was encouraging me, damn near coaching me,” said the appreciative Paul.

THAT MUST BE ONE COOL CAT: Elina Svitolina’s 86-year-old Ukrainian grandmother refused to leave home in Odessa during the war because she didn’t want to leave her cat. 

QUOTEBOOK:

“I hate to say this, but tennis is doing so well these days that I am tempted to say, ‘Roger who? Rafa who?’ ” – Cindy Shmerler

“Among us Americans, we say winning a set 6-0 is like a curse.” – Tommy Paul

“I am a New Yorker, but a western New Yorker. There’s a big difference.” – Buffalo native Jessica Pegula 

THE LAST OF THE MOTHERS: The Open began with ten mothers. Now only Caroline Wozniacki remains: BTW: the Dane’s upcoming match against Coco Gauff will feature two of the fastest players of our era.

JUST WONDERING: What player was most affected by the dominance of the Big 3 – Roger, Rafa and Nadal – Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Roddick, David Ferrer, John Isner or someone else?

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